In Season 4, ‘Westworld’ is more understandable (and fun)

Thandiwe Newton (l) and Aaron Paul John Johnson/HBO John Johnson/HBO

When west world debuted on HBO in 2016, it would have been hard to imagine how much the series has changed over the course of three seasons. Like the 1973 Michael Crichton film it’s based on, the series initially took place in an intricate theme park where the rich and powerful could play as 19th-century villains, killing the real-life robot inhabitants (or hosts) to their hearts’ content and sew. content. While the hosts’ rise to consciousness and violent revolution was predicted from the outset, west world has now continued well past the fall of its titular resort and into the “real world,” chronicling the ongoing power struggle between humanity and artificial intelligence with not a single cowboy in sight. As the scope of the series has expanded, it has also become so complex that by the end of 2020 season three it became damn near impossible to keep up with the character’s loyalties, decide who to root for, or even to root for. to parse the literal events of the story. Fortunately, the fourth season, which starts on Sunday, June 26, is the most readable and the most fun west world has been in years. It’s still a brain game, but it doesn’t feel like you’re playing against a computer anymore.

Season four begins years after the rogue android Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) gave her life by killing Rehoboam, the omniscient AI who predicts and dictates the fate of every human being on Earth. Though scarred by the war to essentially dethrone God, her human apprentice Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul) has returned to a more normal life. This peace is short-lived, of course, as both he and the technopathic superhost Maeve Millay (the ever-great Thandiwe Newton) are hunted by the massive Delos Corporation. Showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan have used this season’s time jump to build new, new relationships. Caleb and Maeve, who only met at the end of last season, now share a close bond and unshakable trust, the origins of which are explored through flashbacks. Putting them together as the main protagonists immediately resolves one of season three’s biggest frustrations, which is that nearly every character with sympathetic motivations was under the spell of someone with ambiguous or clearly malicious intent. After two consecutive seasons of moral gymnastics, most of the characters are finally clearly demarcated between protagonists and antagonists.

In a parallel subplot, Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) returns from the virtual world of the Sublime and hopes to use the knowledge he has gathered from millions of simulated futures to avert a possible doomsday. Wright puts on as solid a performance as ever, but this season’s less contemplative tone means he can flex even less of his acting muscles than last year, which is a shame considering the earlier seasons have showcased his talents. He is also still metaphorically enthralled with Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), a total accomplice of a character who exists alone so that Bernard has someone to share the exposition out loud with. On the plus side, Evan Rachel Wood gets a distinctly new character to portray, Christina, a video game writer who seems ignorant of her nature as a synthetic being, yet seems to be haunted. Her foil on the show is her roommate Maya, played by recent Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, who along with Caleb’s family represent the story’s day-to-day human commitment.

Evan Rachel Wood John Johnson/HBO John Johnson/HBO

While the gray mongrel William (aka “The Man in Black, played by Ed Harris) is still in the game, the season’s main villain is Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), a copy of the ghost of Dolores who is more ruthless. and more Machiavellian than her ancestor, Thompson’s performance remains the most fascinating of the show, as she continues to blend her well-studied impression of Evan Rachel Wood’s portrayal of Dolores with glimpses of Thompson’s original character and the years “Chalores” spent playing evolving into a distinct personality.Charlotte has become the distillation of all the worst parts of humanity and artificial intelligence, so completely betrayed by both sides that she now trusts only herself.Where she once wanted to create a better future for all hosts, her definition includes of ‘her kind’ now only those whose thoughts have been copied directly from her last season tried to break both humans and hosts off their pre-programmed paths; her progeny, Charlotte, wants to be the one doing the programming. Charlotte’s downright evil plans give almost all the protagonists a single result they want to avoid, which greatly simplifies the story.

Which doesn’t mean that west world has suddenly become a light-hearted viewing experience. Joy, Nolan and the company are still up to many of their old tricks, setting up puzzles to solve, putting in both predictable and outrageous twists and turns, and playing with the audience’s perception of time, memory, and reality. This is still a series where you should never assume anything. It’s much less taxing on the brain, though, which can help to enjoy the other ways the series has improved since its (still superior) first season. west world outgrew his uneasy obsession with sexual assault as a means of amplifying drama and defining character all the way back in season two, but that year’s story found other ways to delve even deeper into misery porn territory. Season three was less depressing, but so cerebral that a viewer could hardly lack the brainpower to process joy. This time you may relax enough to realize how wonderful it is that Thandiwe Newton plays a robot with super powers who wears a katana. I would not have described sooner west world like an action-adventure show, but I’d do it now, even though neither the quality nor the quantity of the action has changed significantly. It’s just a matter of tone; you only call something an ‘adventure’ if it’s fun.

In Season 4, 'Westworld' is more understandable (and fun) than it's been in years

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